(By Zvi Gluck)
Seven and a half years ago, we created Amudim with a mission: to give a voice to the victims of sexual abuse and eradicate stigmas so that those who had been victimized could get the help they needed to heal. Baruch Hashem, we have come so far since we first opened our doors, which is what makes recent events so troubling.
Several weeks ago news broke regarding an influential member of our community, with dire accusations. The story has come to a shocking end with the accused taking his own life.
Complex situations often cannot be put into nice and neat packages. Confusion and varied points of view are normal and common when these events occur. One of the viewpoints that has been emerging has been one of sadness for family members. In addition, this viewpoint is stressing an adherence to the halachos of lashon hara, and of course, that is a necessity. Negligently destroying someone’s reputation without any shred of evidence or credibility is a terrible act, and goes against everything we stand for. However, these points do not hold up in the face of destroying the lives of victims. There is another viewpoint that must be presented on behalf of victims of abuse worldwide. Although I am not a leader of any particular community, I have spoken to a number of Rabbanim and communal leaders, and Baruch Hashem, at least quietly, they have been very supportive of the message that must get out. Baruch Hashem, a small group of Rabbanim have written about this vital viewpoint, but they are few and far between, and this message must be presented with the volume and attention it deserves. Bemakom she’ain Ish… if others are not saying it, I’ll say it.
Can we forget how traumatic this episode has been for the victims, whose years of suffering have been further compounded? Not only do they no longer have any way of facing their abuser, a crucial step in getting proper closure and moving on with their lives, but turning this event into an anti-lashon hara crusade effectively tells victims of abuse that their pain doesn’t matter, only that of a bereaved family. Victims carry the pain of their abuse every day and every waking hour of their lives; for some, the scars remain forever. I can’t even begin to count how often our founder, Mendy Klein a’h, would shed tears over the fact that sexual abuse is more horrific than murder, because while death brings with it an end to suffering, abuse victims live in torment every day of their lives unless they get the help that they need to go from being a victim to being a survivor.
Countless people tend to come out and support abusers and alleged abusers, but we don’t see the same when it comes to supporting victims. It is so heartbreaking to see innocent victims revictimized. I myself have spoken to many gedolim who confirmed to me that they have met with victims, corroborated their stories and even provided piskei halacha saying that they should go to the police with their stories, both recently over the stories surfacing now, as well as over the years. Publicly supporting victims is vital and therapeutic. Merely supporting them quietly and in private conversations is a good start, but it still leaves the victims clueless of such support and it deepens their pain and trauma.
Each time we fail to seize an opportunity to break stigmas and provide a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves, we as a community become complicit in the abuses that have taken place. Worse yet, we provide a safe haven for sexual predators and their defenders by excusing any mention of their unspeakable actions as lashon hara, chilul Hashem, embarrassing the abuser or hurting their children. Why are we not standing up for those who are abused? How are we allowing them to be revictimized? What about their embarrassment and that of their children? We have set our community back light years, creating a tragic scenario where innocent victims will be afraid to speak out because the community will label them as rodfim and murderers, instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs – on the shoulders of those who abuse children.
Ironically, we often see a common denominator in abuse cases, with abusers threatening victims or their families – whether it is physically, financially, emotionally, socially or communally – or abusers vowing to destroy themselves or their own families in an effort to prevent their victims from speaking out. It’s time we stop blaming victims when abusers get divorced, are jailed or take their own lives, and remember that abusers bear the responsibility for those consequences which, sadly, can impact their own children as well.
Let me make this very, very clear. A person who abuses people is guilty. Individuals who know about abuse and do nothing are guilty. Community leaders who know about abuse and refuse to support victims and their loved ones don’t get a free pass because they hold positions of honor – they too are guilty. I leave it to the beis din shel ma’ala to stand in judgment on what happened.
To the victims, we hear you, we will fight for you, and you are not alone. Do not EVER think that your reporting of abuse can ever be the cause of someone killing themselves or harming others in any way. Your duty is to keep yourself and your family safe, and we will never stop supporting you. If someone reacts to this situation in any way other than getting themselves the help they need, that is their fault and not yours. They are the perpetrator, and they need to seek out the help available to them, to get themselves out of it, express remorse, face their victims, and go to therapy.
One final point. To all those people out there who are struggling with thoughts, feelings, and urges regarding crossing boundaries with other people, or who have already unfortunately started to go down that path, seek out the help available before it’s too late.
It is my hope that strong leadership will emerge from this terrible situation that will support victims of abuse on all levels – emotionally, therapeutically, communally and, yes, publicly.
May Hashem bless those who have been traumatized with the strength and the courage to go on and may we all see the day that we can change the narrative, so we are truly there to support those in need.
Rabbi Zvi Gluck is the CEO of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 22 years. For more information go to www.amudim.org.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)